Picture courtesy of Xelu.
The air was thin this far up the mountains. I drew my breath in great gulps and my head pounded like a beating drum. The air in the mountains, while crisp and fresh, was not for lowlanders like me. Even my elven guides and baggage handlers seemed challenged, though not so much as myself. The kanks had been left behind at a waypoint days ago. Kanks cannot survive at this altitude.
“The Great Gate is up ahead, patron. No more than half a league once past the bend”, said Marik, the chief of the elven guides with experience in getting people to the city at the top of the mountain.
I grunted and stood up. After all the setbacks that my merchant house had experienced in recent years, setting up a trade route to this remote but lucrative land would restore my house, and more importantly to me, to comfort and wealth. I felt my jaw tighten as I thought of House Shom’s paid raiders looting our caravan from Nibenay going to Raam, with our best dune traders killed and valuable cargo looted. The operations of my house in Nibenay were lost entirely.
The Great Gate was grand indeed. Nestled between sheer cliffs, the gate appeared to be virtually impregnable to conventional attack. There were guards here and templars. “You had best let me handle the customary bribes, patron. The ways of this land are very different”. Marik spoke with the ranking templar of the gate and appeared to be friendly with him. I only partially understood what they were saying. The mountain dialect here was thick and some words were different. It would be some time before I would be able to communicate well in their local tongue. “The templar of the gate welcomes you to the Templaracy of Gozar, patron. He says that your lungs are strong for a lowlander and he commends your persistence”. I smiled and nodded at the templar.
The next day we passed by many villages, thorps and hamlets. One thing seemed odd, and I asked Marik about it. “Freeman, patron? Gozar has no freemen. Nor any slaves. All in Gozar are serfs, nobles or templars. I believe that one in five men here are templars. There are a small number of ancient noble familes. They no longer own any land, but by tradition recieve a handsome stipend from the state. The remainder are serfs, which in truth are little better than slaves. Perhaps worse. There is no manumission here, and the only way someone can change the caste that they were born into is to become a templar.”
I inquired about the Sorcerer Monarch of Gozar. Marik thought for a moment, then replied. “He is a God-King”. Hearing the scoff under my breath, Marik smiled and continued. “Yes, patron. I know that this claim is a common one among the Sorcerer Monarchs of the lowlands, but the God-King of Gozar is a God-King with a difference. For one, the God-King of Gozar has been reincarnated many times. Each time the God-King returns with the same knowledge and power of his previous lives, but in a different body, always that of a young child. The God-King is born, he lives, dies, and reincarnates”.
Reincarnation was a popular belief in the lowland city of Raam, but he had never seen any evidence of it actually happening. Marik continued speaking. "The God-King is currently styled as God-King Wei of Gozar. It is said that he is an old man now, and will be passing onto the afterlife before returning as a child again soon. When that happens he will have a new style name. I don’t know what his name was originally. Perhaps no one does".
Finally we reached the city at the top of the world. Marik was organizing accommodations, and the baggage train was being unloaded with lowlander products that were rare in this corner of the world. My gambit to seek trade beyond the horizon had paid off.